In May 2020, towards the end of the COVID-19 lockdown, Enghouse Interactive hosted a webinar together with the Customer Contact Network of New Zealand (CCNNZ) to discuss remote working for contact centres in the region.
Julie Valencia, Chair at CCNNZ, interviewed Sharyn Clements, Team Leader Customer Contact at Cessnock City Council, and Peter Cooke, Head of Customer Service at Lotto New Zealand.
Setting the Scene
Pre-COVID-19, both Lotto and Cessnock City Council were 100% on-premises contact centres, each with a small group of agents. Both centres handled voice and email enquiries only. As well as a strong customer service ethic that came across clearly, during the webinar session each manager demonstrated a strong respect and care for their team.
During transition, and then during lockdown, care of their teams was paramount to these managers. They particularly noted the need for a special focus on connection and communication, and describe in the webinar the way they addressed this. It was easy for agents to feel isolated, even if they were not alone at home, and both organisations worked out strategies to manage this, with team meetings – preferably via video – as well as some fun online group activities to try and replace the physical team atmosphere of the office.
Interestingly, this was almost the same need shown by customers. Lonely callers, with more time on their hands, seemed to be seeking reassurance from the voice at the other end. This brought its own new challenge, since it meant that both call volume and AHT increased dramatically for each organisation during lockdown, with agents going out of their way to assist with issues that were fairly peripheral to the actual enquiry.
As a result, call and email volumes increased for both organisations, with Cessnock City experiencing a 50% increase in handle time, and Lotto NZ logging a boggling 600% increase in call volume as a result of their move to digital gaming and the learning curve associated with that for many of their customers.
The technological changes that each organisation made over the lockdown period actually ended up facilitating significant long-term improvements for each contact centre. These changes were made both to enable remote working and also to handle the increased traffic that came with the crisis.
- Both organisations implemented Web Chat to offer another avenue of engagement
- Cessnock City Council added Callback to filter non-urgent calls and reduce wait time
- Lotto deployed a new Cloud contact centre platform (in record time) that proved a game changer for their business at that time, and potentially for the future.
The addition of Cloud technology for Lotto means that the contact centre is now permanently positioned to support spikes in demand – for instance when the jackpot hasn’t been hit for weeks. In the short time since deploying Cloud, Lotto NZ has been able to do bursts of up to 200 agents (outsourcing when needed) – a phenomenal 1600% burst from their original size.
Aside from the technology side, both Peter and Sharyn were agreeably surprised at the increase in productivity they personally experienced, and that their teams also exhibited, while working remotely. Staff were able to concentrate on learning, and were more proactive about problem solving, while managers found more time for planning and strategy.
Work-life balance was a huge benefit: as a result of working remotely, staff also had significantly more time to spend with families. They particularly loved the new commute time from bedroom to home office location!
A very interesting benefit was that absenteeism was zero for all of that time. Adherence also increased – although that meant that closer attention was needed to ensure login and log-off times were followed, and breaks taken, for the sake of the team’s health.
Another benefit was on the customer side. Cessnock City Council expects more customers to contact them now online, instead of coming into the Council office, and Lotto NZ expects a much bigger percentage of customers to purchase games digitally, now they have successfully navigated this new method.
Learnings – 100% of Webinar Attendees will adopt some form of Work-from-home
When we asked Peter and Sharyn what they had learned from the last 3 months, and what advice they would offer others considering remote working, both panellists spoke of internal and external communication and information-sharing as critical, and urged working closely with solutions providers like Enghouse for expert advice and assistance.
For the future, Lotto’s Peter Cooke said he would advise people always to be open to other ways of doing things. And when looking at new ideas, don’t be afraid to consult with colleagues and peers. Cessnock’s Sharyn Clements urged people to TEST as well as plan their business continuity strategy. An audience poll during the webinar bore this out, with nearly 30% of attendees claiming the plans they’d had in place pre-COVID-19 actually didn’t help much. Happily the majority, nearly 50%, claimed that planning had been of value.
We also asked the audience if the COVID-19 lockdown had changed their day-to-day running of the contact centre (either temporarily or permanently). Only 11% had not experienced change, with nearly 50% noting significant change.
To close, we asked audience and panellists about their plans for the future. 68% of participants said they would either keep some staff or roster staff to work remotely. The impact of the change is clear, in that every responder said their organisation would adopt some form of remote working.
Meanwhile, Cessnock City Council will continue remote working in some capacity, while Lotto New Zealand will review further tools and systems to facilitate the short-notice outsourcing that is now easily within their reach.